A while back I heard a story that went like this: in a certain aquarium, fish kept disappearing from one of the tanks late at night. Baffled, the staff put up cameras to find out what was going on, and discovered that an octopus was climbing out of its tank, eating the fish, then crawling back to its own tank.
I was planning on writing a blog entry about cephalopods, and wanted to cite this story. I could swear I heard about it in a respectable source (newspaper, science magazine, or something). But a few rounds of Google turn up amazingly large numbers of hits for this story, with amazingly low occurrence of substantiation. The setting varies: sometimes the scene is an aquarium, sometimes a research lab, sometimes even a pet store, or a hobbyist's tank, but it's always a FOAF. It has all the hallmarks of an urban legend.
The idea that an octopus might crawl out of its cage at all does not seem to be controversial in the least, however. Many people claim this has happened to them personally. What is more questionable is the idea that it might crawl into another tank for a snack, then go back to its home tank.
Shocked that Snopes has nothing on this topic, I created an account just to bring it up here.
[*]The earliest reference to this story I could find is this amusing USENET thread from 1991, where different versions of the story are compared, and weighed. One post places it at the "New England Aquarium." ("Octopus Escapes; Considered Heavily Armed", although a satire, seems to corroborate this detail. See the note at the end of that post.)
This story probably goes back further than 1991 (which does make me doubt I heard it in a news story after all). There's even a version of it in Pliny the Elder's Natural History (9.92-93): an octopus climbs out of the ocean to eat fish that have been left out to salt. The creature even climbs a tree to get at the fish, which has always made me think this is also the origin of the Tree Octopus legend. Oddly, however, Pliny's detailed description of the animal, both in terms of size and morphology, seems to match the Giant Squid rather than any known type of octopus.
So what is the status of this legend? Well, in addition to the links I have already provided, I did finally find this page, where professional aquarium curators discuss the story. It does therefor seem likely that incidents like this have happened before. If the version I originally heard actually happened, I would love to see the video footage, but unlike an octopus sliming around on dry land, I won't hold my breath.
IVSTINVS "The Mad Latinist"
Posted by Psihala on :
quote:The idea that an octopus might crawl out of its cage at all does not seem to be controversial in the least, however. Many people claim this has happened to them personally. What is more questionable is the idea that it might crawl into another tank for a snack, then go back to its home tank.
My brother and I sprung for a pet octopus when I was in my twenties. He/she/it lasted a little over a year. We heard the same story about it crawling out into another tank that so and so owned to get some expensive fish or another but we paid it no mind. We weren't going to have anything near the aquarium that might attract its attention anyway.
No, there's nothing questionable about them being escape artists, and these little guys can squeeze themselves into remarkably small holes. We were told to weight down the lid of the tank with a rock and seal off any openings in the lid once we got it home.
The first few days we saw very little of the octopus as it spent most of its time consealed within the 'cave' we pre-arranged on the bottom of the tank (we later found that it spent most of the day sleeping anyway), then one early morning I found it trying to push its way through the seal around the external filter's return tube. The seal was a combination of ceran wrap and aluminum foil that had been forced into the spaces around the openings for the tubes/power cords/etc and the octopus had managed to pull a bit of one of them into the tank. It didn't make it out, but it was trying.
Dad came up with a more permanent solution to the problem by cutting a piece of plastic to fit over the back part of the lid with drilled holes only large enough to push the tubes and that problem was solved.
We'd also been told at the pet store that people who had an octopus for a pet would sometimes play with them outside the tank for a short time, but ours didn't like having anyone's hand inside the tank, much less being played with. More than once I had to peel an agitated octopus off my hand when it was my turn to siphon clean the gravel or scrub the rocks and the cave (an octopus isn't a terribly clean creature). They're surprisingly strong little guys -- and they generally won't let go unless they want to. It might have enjoyed the game of tug-o-war at those times I had the audacity to remove anything from the tank, but considering the dark shade it turned whenever I did this, I rather doubt that was the case.
Our octopus lived on feeder goldfish, schrimp, and an occasional treat of thawed meat. One time we put a feeder goldfish in a clear glass of water and held it next to the aquarium glass. The only thing we got out of that little experiment was a frustrated octopus as he moved back and forth along the glass or tried to reach out for something it couldn't touch. The feeder fish were kept (coincidently) in another room and the octopus never saw them until they were dropped into the tank. Would it have tried to get them if we'd set the feeder fish bowl next to the aquarium? With an easy way in and out of the tank, maybe -- assuming the fish bowl was within a close enough distance to where the octopus wouldn't dry out or suffocate along the way. Would it go back to it's own tank afterwards? Hard to say, but it would still probably require an easy way in and out of its own tank. The feeder fish were freshwater fish, but after gorging itself on goldfish its more likely I would find a (possibly dead) octopus still in the feeder bowl.
They're interesting creatures to watch, but I can't picture one climbing a tree for a fish (much less living all that long). The story we were told was of two saltwater tanks side by side. After having an octopus around, in retrospect it seems more likely to me that it would just stay in the new tank after eating any fish there rather than return its own.
~Psihala (*This tank just ain't big enough for the two of us!)
Posted by Little Pink Pill on :
I watched a Discovery Chanel special on how clever octopi are, and they mentioned the escape artist thing. They interviewed an aquarium worker who said an octopus had cleaned out a tank of fish near him, but it was hardly up a tree.
Posted by The Goof on :
Last May at Sea World in San Diegom we took a behind the scenes tour, and the guide stated the above mentione story took place in their fish aquarium. Don't know if it really happened there or not. Their solution was to but artificial turf on the underside of the lid. The octopus is supposed to not like the feel of it and will not touch it.
Posted by Bloody Marrya on :
Heh - it *happened* at our local aquarium, too!
Posted by Keeper of the Mad Bunnies on :
When I worked for Scripps Aquarium in La Jolla, CA, I heard a similar story. The tanks at the aquarium share walls, so it would be possible for an octopus to escape from one tank and move along from tank to tank very easily.
It wasn't fish the octopus was after, however, it was the lobsters! Pacific octopus feed primarily on shellfish and when the octopus found the tank with the lobster, it was very happy! In fact, the aquarium director thought an employee was taking them for a free meal until they found the shells in the octopus tank.
Again, it happened before I started working there, so it may or may not be true. The tank was secured against wandering cephalopods.
Posted by JR on :
I know someone whose pet octopus would not only come out of the tank to play with it's favourite toy (a plastic spatula), but if it felt ignored it would squirt the owner ... from across the room.
Recently one aquarium moved a large octopus into a mixed tank... and the sharks started disappearing. Someone caught it on video, the octopus was ambushing and eating 4 ft sharks.
Here's the vidoe (Yes, it's Real Player. Sorry. Get Real Alternative)
Posted by buffyvol on :
quote:Originally posted by Bloody Marrya: Heh - it *happened* at our local aquarium, too!
I actually saw a news report about that happining at the Tennessee Aquarium in chattanooga.
Posted by DawnStorm on :
In the sunken city of R'yleh, dead Cthulhu lies dreaming.
Posted by BacardiSpice on :
There's some great footage in an Attenborough doco of Occies moving from rock pool to rock pool at night during low tide to hunt.
I know what you mean about the tug-of-war, Psihala. I once befriended (well, supplied lots of little crabs to) an octopus living in a rockpool over the summer at our beach. If my hand went in the pool, he'd come up to it, and gently feel it...while two tentacles went stealtily down to anchor it on the bottom. Once it felt that it had a good hold, the gentle wafting touch on my hand would become a firm grip as it tried to tug the 'pentapus' attached to my arm down to his lair.
By the end of summer, it was tame enough to come to the surface when I arrived, and would wave his arms out of the water until I put my hand in the pool, and it had ceased trying to pull me into the water. Then one day it was just gone. I hope it returned to the see, as collecting any creatures from the natural rock platforms around Sydney is strictly illegal, but I'll never know.
I've never tried to befriend one like that since, as I'd hate to think I might have made it vulnerable to someone out for lunch or a pet.
Posted by Lord Blackadder on :
I remember seeing the video related to the story. They had to wait until night time when the octopus thought nobody was watching to catch it on film. If I remember correctly, it was on Discovery channel, so I found it credible at the time. I wonder why it is so hard to find though. It was a cool enough video that it should be somewhere.
Posted by Brad from Georgia on :
Once while wading in the sea, I felt something nudging my leg and slopped out to see if my trunks were frayed. A small octopus was clinging to my leg, no larger than a cherry, with arms a few inches long.
The second I saw it, I said fondly, "Ohjeezusgetitoffgetitoff Ohgodittouched mehelpsomebody Getitoffgetitoffgetiutoff."
I swiped at it, it inked me, and plopped down into the surf.
And ever since then I've wanted to be a wheat farmer in Kansas.
Posted by Little Pink Pill on :
quote:Originally posted by Brad from Georgia: The second I saw it, I said fondly, "Ohjeezusgetitoffgetitoff Ohgodittouched mehelpsomebody Getitoffgetitoffgetiutoff."
Posted by Bloody Marrya on :
I have GOT to find one of Brad's books. Juding by the stuff he comes up with at random....I can't begin to imagine how much I'll enjoy the things he thinks are as good as he can possibly make them [/hijack]